Chickasaw Nation complex to include fun center, gaming

A view of the new fun center. The Ada Travel Plaza, including gaming machines, is to the far right.
A closer view of the fun center.
A map of the entire Ada complex, including pending application for gaming. Click to enlarge.
The Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma is building a family fun center next to land it is seeking to place in trust for an expanded gaming facility.

Construction of the fun center is currently underway in Ada. The building, approximately 100,000 square feet in size, will house a bowling alley and laser tag arena, according to a tribal employee.

Immediately to the northwest of the site, the tribe has asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs to place land into trust for gaming purposes. The application has been pending for more than two years.

To the northeast, the tribe is operating a Class II gaming facility, smoke shop, convenience store and gas station. The Ada Travel Plaza has approximately 25 Class II electronic gaming machines, 16 of which are owned by Multimedia Games Inc., a Texas company that bills itself as the largest maker of Class II devices in the country.

The entire complex, located just off the intersection of two major state highways, is part of the Chickasaw Nation's expanding gaming and business empire. Through steady land purchases since the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, the tribe has become the owner of more gaming facilities than any other in the state and in the country.

The Ada Travel Plaza and the fun center show how easily the tribe's land-into-trust requests are processed by the BIA. Other tribes -- particularly those in western Oklahoma -- that want to expand their gaming enterprises undergo heightened scrutiny under IGRA, including lengthy reviews by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. But approval for the Chickasaw Nation can happen in as little as a month.

In November of 1998, ten years after IGRA became law, the tribe purchased 43.41 acres in Ada for nearly $1.2 million. The tribe then submitted two separate applications to the BIA.

The first fee-to-trust transaction was for 12 acres of the Ada parcel. In a July 1999 resolution, the Chickasaw Legislature informed the BIA that this land was to be put into trust for "economic development."

That same month, on July 12, Traile Glory, the superintendent of the BIA's Ada agency, signed documents to take the land into trust for the tribe's benefit. The parcel became the travel center, which was expanded at a later date to include gaming.

But since the original application did not specify gaming, the tribe wasn't subjected to additional scrutiny by the BIA.

The second fee-to-trust transaction was for 31.41 acres of the Ada parcel. In May 2001, the Chickasaw Legislature again designated the parcel for "economic development." That same month, on May 11, Glory approved the request. The fun center facility abuts this parcel.

Even though gaming isn't slated for the 31-acre parcel, the BIA, under IGRA, treats fee-to-trust transactions that impact existing gaming facilities as gaming acquisitions. For example, a parking lot next to a casino, would undergo additional scrutiny.

However, this process didn't happen for the Chickasaw Nation.

When it came to the third piece of the complex -- the part that will house a new, and much larger, gaming facility -- the tribe departed from prior practice. After purchasing the land from the Internal Revenue Service at a public auction, the Chickasaw Legislature informed BIA the land was to be used for "gaming" purposes.

Under the directive of the BIA's central office in Washington, the application was automatically submitted in October 2001 to George Skibine, the head of the Office of Indian Gaming Management. According to the office and other BIA officials, this is the first time any Chickasaw Nation fee-to-trust transaction has been submitted to Skibine.

As of this week, the application was still pending even though last summer, the office said it was a month away from a final decision.

In addition to this application, the Chickasaw Nation currently has an Off Track Betting (OTB) compact with the state of Oklahoma under review by Skibine's office. The Ada Travel Plaza is not one of the sites where the tribe intends to offer OTB, according to the compact. An OTB compact, previously approved in 2000, does not include the Ada Travel Plaza either.

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